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A new normal – Life after COVID19 has brought challenges across the world

5th August 2020

Life after COVID19 has brought challenges across the world and to every member of the BSPP. Many scientists have been on lockdown, away from labs and research, as well as colleagues and friends. Some scientists have been caught in a work whirlwind with their expertise required to help tackle the COVID19 pandemic.

Nature and Science have featured discussions on the impacts of COVID19 to the global science community, and studies have highlighted the unequal effects of this pandemic on scientists. The International Society of Plant Pathology have been publishing monthly commentaries on members’ experience from the plant pathology community. The Biologist has highlighted the way scientists’ responded to the COVID19 outbreak and interviewed BSPP member, Professor Sophien Kamoun from The Sainsbury Laboratory. Detailing the way in which scientists stepped up-to-the-plate: identifying the risks in March, initiating social distancing measures early and even making hand-sanitiser.  Highlighting the importance of ‘chilling and relaxing’ for scientists, as well as revisiting goals and re-assessing priorities.

We approached our BSPP PhD students to find out how lockdown has challenged plant pathology studies and found that there are unexpected highs – virtual seminars and online networking, a chance to read and reflect – and lows – disruption in experiments, one-way systems in the lab and limitations for accessing supervisors and colleagues.

Daniel Maddock at University of West of England, Bristol, UK

“Lockdown brought many changes to our lives as PhD’s, reduced contact with peers and supervisors, a complete halt on lab work and general uncertainty. However, it also forced focuses to shift; no longer could reading and skill development fall by the wayside due to a busy schedule. People say a change of pace can spur productivity, which is exactly what lockdown did for my writing. Motivation shifted, and a long winding literature review was written, which further developed my understanding and aims within my own research. If only returning to labs was so fruitful…”

Claire Kanja, Rothamsted Research and University of Nottingham, UK

“As one of the few members of my lab who commutes in, the return from lockdown has meant that I must consolidate my lab time to a few intense days rather than spread it throughout week which can be tough. On the other hand, working patterns are more flexible and, as someone who works better in the morning, I’ve taken advantage of getting into the lab super early to start my day. As a lab group, we have never communicated so much; co-ordinating watering or media prep via WhatsApp so we limit the travelling in for small tasks which benefits everyone.”

Luca Steel, Rothamsted Research and University of Nottingham, UK

“The biggest change for me post-lockdown has been the need for much more rigorous planning. Before lockdown I could adjust experimental plans daily, adding smaller ‘side experiments’ or trying new techniques suggested by nearby colleagues. However, our careful and safe return to the lab has come at the cost of flexibility. Our lab has introduced a booking system for bench space, to ensure everyone can access the lab when required whilst maintaining social distancing. This has worked well, but the need to pre-book rooms has meant I’ve had to be more organised with my experimental planning. Before beginning each experiment, I’ve drawn up a calendar to plan the length of time, equipment, and lab space required for each step – from media prep all the way to sampling. Although it sometimes feels long-winded, I hope it’ll be good training longer-term. By the time the need for social distancing is gone, I should be in a routine of thoroughly planning my lab work, which will be useful through the rest of my PhD and beyond.”

Laura Roehrig, University of Edinburgh/Scotland’s Rural College

“The pandemic hit me in the first year of my PhD studies, just after moving to Scotland. A year that is already challenging in itself but has been even more challenging due to the covid-19 pandemic. The most challenging aspect was organising training via virtual platforms, supervisor meetings and keeping the motivation high while uncertainty was affecting us all in different ways. Personally, the most important lesson was that instead of getting frustrated not being able to do experiments, I tried to develop new ideas, focus on literature reviews and several virtual training sessions. Instead of losing my ambition because of cancelled field trials, I used my daily walks to look for disease symptoms in other barley fields. Even though my PhD life has been turned upside down, I think the most important thing is to remind myself every day why I started a PhD in plant pathology and that a global pandemic won’t affect my dedication to it.”